The terrace, that’s what she’d called it. As a word, its origin is Middle French; there’s some kind of connection to the Vulgar Latin too, no idea what, though. I was preoccupied with this. We were at nosebleed height, and I’d always thought this was the habitat for balconies and other architectural-creatures adapted to life in thin-air environments. For me, your average terrace is a sea-level animal; perfectly evolved for barbecues, and locking yourself out of the house. But what do I know?
Whatever the ontological status of this outdoor feature, it’s where I needed to be right now – especially if I wanted to get paid. Not because I deserved it, not yet. But because I had to get the information that would allow monies to flow my way… eventually. Why here? Why now? Because I had to meet Orson Jimson before he went to dinner. This is where he was; the rest is self-explanatory.
I could just make him out under the floodlights. A sharply defined, shadowy figure seated at an ornamental table in one of the ornamental chairs the table was holding court with. Lawn furniture; another taxonomic nightmare that could keep your average sociocultural anthropologist in publications for his entire career.
Jimson looked up at me. Perhaps I was monologuing again?
“Ah, Mr. Smote, I’m glad to finally meet you. Miss Gridlock tells me you are delightfully excentric.”
Orson Jimson appeared to have a drink; the kind a man could really use right now.
Jimson looked over to his executive assistant. Just below the look’s surface was a hint of puzzlement. Amy returned this look; only her one had a smile. A smile that said: ‘you insisted I hire this guy, this is in no way my fault’. Jimson gave Amy her smile back – slightly modified; it said: ‘We’ll see’. Jimson’s mouth said: “Perhaps you would like a drink Mr. Smote?”
“I am a bit thirsty, now that you mention it, Mr. Jimson.”
“Do you have any particular preference in liquid refreshment?”
Joe pretended to think about it. He already knew what he wanted. “What is it you’re drinking?”
“Something very expensive.” Jimson looked smug.
“That’s perfect,” Joe flashed a set of innocent teeth, “expensive is my favorite flavor.”
“Would you like ice?”
“Is it expensive ice?”
“Are you having yours with ice?”
“No.” Jimson said ‘no’ in way that indicated ice in expensive drinks was the height of uncouth behavior.
“Ice sounds wonderful.”
“Could you see to that please Miss Gridlock?” Orson Jimson’s left eye had developed a slight twitch.
Amy Gridlock turned – in preparation to glide off to wherever obscenely rich people keep their expensive drinks – when her boss stopped her.
“Perhaps you might fix Mr. Smote’s drink with extra ice, Miss Gridlock. You do like extra ice don’t you Mr. Smote?”
“Extra ice, like expensive drinks, is my favorite kind of ice Mr. Jimson.” Joe thought that he might be starting to lay it on a bit thick. But hey, you only live for a brutally short time, so why not? Although, it did occur to him that the ‘laying-on-of-thickness’ might be one of the reasons that life was so brutally short. Joe resolved to start being a little more tempered in his interactions. After all, he hadn’t been paid yet. The truth was, that being paid was his favorite kind of flavor for everything.
As Amy completed her full ‘turn-and-glide’ for the drinks cabinet, Jimson indicated to one of the ornate chairs. The gesture was one of invitation; the sub-text was that ‘this chair is suitable for your ‘back-end’, Mr. Smote’. Joe eyed the chair suspiciously, as if sizing up a potential threat. It was painted in garish greens, reds, and yellows; offset with some blues – but not in a tasteful way. The motif appeared to be that of peacocks engaged miscellaneous peacock behaviors. Some, if Joe was any judge, involved peahens. He thought about making some fowl Kama Sutra style remark, but caught himself before he broke his recently enacted vow of tempered-interaction. He was going to break that vow at some point soon – Joe had good sense of his limitations.
Jimson watched through dark eyes as Joe took his seat. The left eye, Joe noticed, betrayed no signs of twitch. Possibly, the fact that Jimson’s glass was now empty had something to do with that.
“Tell me,” Jimson began, after an almost imperceptible breath, “what has Miss Gridlock told about the commission I’ve engaged you for?”
This had to be some sort of trick question, asked for some nefarious rich-man purpose, no doubt. “She didn’t tell me anything. She said you hadn’t filled her in; that you’d prefer to do that yourself. All I know is that you wanted me especially, and that the matter is sensitive.”
Jimson’s face relaxed. This was odd, because until it happened, Joe hadn’t noticed that it was tense. Well, except for the eye-twitch; but Joe had thought he’d been responsible for that. Responsible… on purpose.
“Good.” Jimson looked over Joe’s shoulder at the sound of ice-rattles and approaching liquids. “Thank you Miss Gridlock, if you could just set those down and see to the dinner arrangements. We’ll need security, plain clothes. Try not to have them look like Secret Service this time, will you? It does rather make other guests nervous. Last time, I believe one of ‘ours’ threatened a body search on a fairly important person. Not as important as me, but important enough to be more than averagely inconvenient. Try not to let that happen again…” there was a pause so pregnant that the midwife was already on her way, “…Miss Gridlock.”
Amy looked upset about her boss’ directive; maybe even a little hurt. To Joe it seemed pretty clear that she had expected to hang around while he received his commission-brief. Perhaps she still had no idea why he’d been hired, and had the expectation of finding out at the same time as him? Perhaps, she also wanted an expensive drink? Joe noticed that she’d brought two back, instead of just the one he’d assumed had been asked for. Or perhaps, Amy and Mr. Jimson were in the middle of an illicit-relationship break up; the kind of break up that involves a lot of passive aggression?
Of all the reasons Amy might be feeling hurt, Joe found that he hoped it was because of the last one. He’d succumbed to a deep sense of bitterness ever since his ex-wife had taken up with that dolphin trainer. He wasn’t normally the ‘touchy-feely’ type, but it had cut him right down to his soul. As a consequence, his soul had oxidized to an inky blackness, and he’d started to find comfort in the observed pain of others. He’d been surprised to discover this about himself. Did this make him a bad person? Probably; but at least it hadn’t made him soul-less – that had to count for something.
Amy set the drinks down – one for Joe, and one for her insensitive boss. Joe’s ‘glass’ was an over-sized plastic tumbler, filled to its lip with ice. The curve of the plastic contained a gold-amber fluid trying its best not to be crushed by its solid-state cousin. It was the sort of vessel someone might give to a child, or a guest that was notorious for treating fine crystal like it was a tin-cup. It had a teddy-bear playing tennis on it. Jimson’s glass, on the other hand, was the sort you’d give to someone who owns an elegant set of crystal glasses. It had no ice, and a distinct lack of stuffed-toys. “Mine,” Joe thought, in a fit of teenage haughtiness, “is bigger.”
Jimson waited until he was sure his assistant had returned inside, and then gave Joe a thoughtful look. “Before we begin,” he said, “I want your assurance that you will be discrete with the information I am about to provide you.”
“Discreet, you say? Well, I can assure you that ‘discretion’ is somebody’s middle name; might even be mine.” Joe had no middle name, his parents had never gotten around to it. “Look, Mr. Jimson, so long as I get paid for my work, I’ll be as discreet as you like.” He hoped that this was true – having a black soul was one thing, but having no discretion made you worse than a death-squad in Joe’s opinion.
Jimson took a too-dainty-a-sip from his non-plastic glass, and reached for a corn-fattened-folder at rest in the middle of the table. “Okay. This contains all the information that we have. It includes a detailed background on the ‘matter’ at hand.” Another thoughtful pause. “This info – as they say in the vernacular – should also provide you with a sense of some broader contextual issues as they pertain to you discreet involvement. I’ll have a copy couriered to your office.”
“Can’t I just take that one?”
“Alright then.” A bit suspicious, so it seemed to Joe; but then, he’d never understood the whimsies of the wealthy. If Men were from Mars, and Women Venus, then rich people were most definitely from Uranus. He’d constructed a whole Theory-Of-Class based on the Solar System. The Middle Class, for instance, were from Pluto.
From inside the folder, Jimson produced a large glossy picture, which he handed across the table to Joe. “What do you make of that, Mr. Smote?”
Joe looked it over. “It appears to be a print – I assume it’s a small reproduction of a painting.”
“Do you notice anything else about it?”
“It appears to have a monkey in it. If I’m not much mistaken, that monkey is smoking. …Yep, in my professional opinion, that’s a smoking monkey, alright.”
Orson Jimson looked relieved at this observation; although Joe couldn’t be sure why – it was a pretty cheap looking print.
“That’s what I want you to find for me, Mr. Smote.”
“You want me to find a painting of a smoking monkey?”
“No Mr. Smote, I want you to find me A smoking monkey: A real monkey… that smokes.”
Was this man insane? Couldn’t he just buy a monkey and train it to smoke? I stared at him across the bawdy-peacock-table; Orson Jimson – the First Citizen of Uranus – was not putting me on. He wanted me to provide this monkey, and badly. I could tell by the look in his eyes – eyes as inky-black as old Joe Smote’s soul.
END OF CHAPTER 3